The Spirited History of Ouija Boards

The Ouija board (Wee-ja), also known as a spirit board or talking board, is a flat board marked with the letters of the alphabet, numbers 0-9, and the words “yes”, “no”, and  “hello” and “goodbye”. The “invention” of the original design in unknown. American history can trace the first time people claimed to have communicated with spirits using a table that led to its original design to two sister. In 1848 in Hydesville, New York, two sisters, Kate and Margaret Fox, contacted the spirit of a dead peddler using their table. They became instant celebrities, and sparked a national obsession that spread all across the United States and Europe. It was the birth of modern Spiritualism.

The original form of allowing spiritualists to communicate with the dead was by way of using a table. This process involved placing ones hands on top of the table and asking the spirits to communicate. The message from the spirits was literally “knocked out” on the floor by use of the table legs or by the table literally tilting off its legs. This involved counting out the amount of times the table hit the floor and corresponding it to the letters of the alphabet. Since this process become tiresome over the years, this method of communicating with spirits eventually died out. Eventually a wooden board came onto the scene with letters and numbers available to spell out a message. Thus the “spirit” board was born.

This first patent, filed on May 28, 1890 and granted on February 10, 1891, lists Elijah J. Bond as the inventor and the assignees as Charles W. Kennard and William H. A. Maupin, all from Baltimore, Maryland. Whether Bond or his Baltimore friends actually invented anything or merely took advantage of an existing fad using their own design is fairly obvious, but there is no question that they were the first to market the board as a novelty.

Charles Kennard stated that he named the new board Ouija after a session with Miss Peters, Elijah Bond’s sister-in-law: “I remarked that we had not yet settled upon a name, and as the board had helped us in other ways, we would ask it to propose one. It spelled out O-U-I-J-A. When I asked the meaning of the word it said ‘Good Luck.’

Through generations of families and under the name of different toy companies, the look of the board kept changing. It was not until 1897 that William Fuld held the sole legal right to manufacture and sell the boards.  Although Fuld himself did not believe that the boards were actually communicating with spirits, he did believe that the subconscious minds of the users were pushing the planchette towards answers.

The Ouija board was regarded as a harmless parlor game unrelated to the occult until American Spiritualist Pearl Curran popularized its use as a divining tool during World War I.  Mainstream religions and some occultists have associated use of the Ouija board with the threat of demonic possession and some have cautioned their followers not to use Ouija boards.

Despite being repeatedly debunked by the efforts of the scientific community and denounced as a tool of Satan by conservative Christians, the Ouija Board remains popular among many people today.


The Power of Grimoires

Grimoires are books of ceremonies, rituals, and spells that are used in ceremonial magic composed in Europe from the fifteenth to the sixteenth centuries. The texts provide rules regarding symbols, chants, and spells, and describes how to utilize them to perform effective magical effects.

The most famous of all Grimoires is the Key of Soloman, allegedly prepared by the king himself. In the first century C.E. the historian Josephus (c. 37–c. 100) refers to a book of incantations for summoning spirits written by Solomon. Black magicians circulated the text throughout Europe in the twelfth century; the Inquisition condemned it as a dangerous text in 1559.

“Grimoires exist because of the desire to create a physical record of magical knowledge, reflecting concerns regarding the uncrontrollable and corruptible nature of the oral transmission of valuable secret or sacred information….. But grimoires also exist because the very act of writing itself was imbued with occult of hidden power. ‘A book of magic is also a magical book,’ as one historian of the subject has observed”…

Via in part: UnexplainedStuff

No Prison Can Hold Me

A 25 year old Harry Houdini in a publicity shot photographed in 1899.

Harry Houdini (1874-1926) rose from humble beginnings as a boy in Budapest and a poor Jewish teenager in New York to become the most famous escape artist in 20th century America. His work not only broke through the boundries of what human beings were thought capable of doing but also broke through the even thicker walls of bigotry and prejudice. Harry Houdini is remembered today as a legendary showman and magician whose life and death is still shrouded in mystery.

Eric of the Air
Ehrich “Harry Houdini” Weisz was born into family of four boys to a Rabbi and a country girl in Budapest, Hungary. At four, Ehrich’s family migrated to America first settling in Appleton, Wisconsin as the Weiss family. His father was named the leader of the local Jewish Orthodox Church. Over the next few years two more children were born.

When Samuel Weiss lost his congregation, due to his strict adherence to orthodox views, he and eight year old Ehrich moved from Wisconsin to New York City to search for work. During this time, they lived in a crowded boarding house on East 79th Street. Young Ehrich worked several jobs, including as a “newsie” and shoe shine boy or “bootblack”.

In New York, Ehrich discovered the adventures of 19th century French magician, Jean Eugene Robert-Houdin, whom he would later take the stage name Houdini from. It’s not hard to imagine the young Ehrich working a series of menial jobs day in and day out and dreaming of being a mysterious magician while in reality he and his father were desperately poor and living in one the most crowded and dangerous cities in the world.

When Samuel Weiss brought the rest of the family to New York, a few years later, Ehrich began performing in the streets with his older brother Theodore. They performed in city parks and at Coney Island where Enrich undertook a variety of unsuccessful routines such as a daredevil trapeze artist “Eric of the Air”, simple hucksterism, and enacting sleight of hand routines as the “King of Cards”. This was all well before Ehrich began performing in minor escape acts with Theodore in the “The Brothers Houdini”.

Before and after work, when the brothers couldn’t find audiences to give them money they would beg for coins. In Ruth Brandon’s biography The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini she retells how a young Houdini would give coins he had begged for to his mother by making them mysteriously emerge from her hair in silver fountains. If that failed in causing a smile, he would hide them in his pockets and tell her, “Shake me, I’m magic!” and proceed to sprout puddles of pennies and nickels.

Rabbi Weiss died in 1892 leaving a family of five boys and one girl. At this time, all of the family worked in New York’s garment district sweatshops to survive. Ehrich himself worked sewing together men’s ties in the sweatshops. In 1893, at 19, he met his future wife Wilhelmina “Bess” Rahner, a struggling singer and dancer, while performing at Coney Island. She eventually replaced Theodore as Houdini’s assistant. They performed together for the next six years and in 1899, Houdini was discovered by a vaudeville agent while the act was traveling in Illinois. There, Houdini was offered a contract to tour Europe which he gladly accepted.

King of Handcuffs

Harry Houdini in Cleveland, Ohio circa 1915.

In 1890, Ehrich threw himself into European public relations the likes of which have never been seen. As part of his over the top advertising, he would stop in the jail of every village or city that he toured to challenge the local police to keep him locked inside a cell for one night. As part of the routine, he would be strip searched, shackled and then led into a cell only to escape by morning. He succeeded each time, even freeing himself from a Siberian prison train, leading skeptics to charge him with cheating by bribing jail guards.

Not one to allow slander, a trait he must have inherited from his proud father, Houdini sued a police officer in Cologne, Germany for making one such false allegation. He won by a demonstration in opening a hefty safe from the inside. The safe, itself, belonged to the judge in the case. The amazing escape cleared Houdini of any wrong doing – winning the law suit and prestige for Houdini.

In London, Houdini spent nearly an hour freeing himself from a set of specially designed handcuffs before a crowd of 400 people and 100 journalists. Never before had Houdini had such a difficult time in an escape – requiring nearly an hour of sustained effort. Only after Bess surreptitiously passed him a special key did he manage to free himself before the thunderous applause of the crowd.

These tactics of showmanship, publicity stunts and spending nearly ten years traveling exhaustively in Europe and Russia, made Ehrich widely known as “The Handcuff King” in Europe. For several years he was the highest paid vaudeville entertainer in the world. His unusual talents provided Houdini with a new found wealth that he had struggled to find since he was a boy a in America.

After returning to the US in 1907, one of the first things Houdini did was buy a brownstone home in the German part of Harlem for $25,000 for his mother and siblings in New York. He published a book called Handcuff Secrets in 1909, and determined to be more than a simple conjurer began devising a series of ever larger illusions that would place his life in danger.

The Man Who Could Walk Through Walls
Starting in 1912, his stunts evolved into elaborate escapes from watery graves or being held in mid-air and set aflame. Right before the audience’s unbelieving eyes, and no longer behind the safety of a curtain, he was locked in chains, hand-cuffed, crammed into straitjackets, bound with thick ropes and then given a few minutes to escape.

Harry Houdini slipping out of a straitjacket while hanging upside down over 46th and Broadway in Manhattan circa 1915.

With only the air in his lungs to survive, he performed his definitive Chinese Water Torture act. In this performance, Houdini was regularly required to hold his breath for three minutes as he unlocked a series of chains and restraints to free himself from a 5′ x 3.5′ re-inforced glass chamber. The original cell was built in England, where Houdini first performed the escape for an audience of one person as part of a one-act play he called “Houdini Upside Down”. This was so he could copyright the effect and have grounds to sue imitators – which he often did.

The Overboard Box routine evolved from the Milk Can Escape that he performed on stage in vaudeville. In his unique role as a performer that could go anywhere and do anything Houdini would escape from a chest that was chained and nailed shut while he was held in heavy shackles. To further complicate the act, the chest would be thrown into the East River in front a large audience. Houdini escaped from the chest as quickly as 57 seconds leaving only a pair of empty manacles in the wooden box.

Buried Alive, one of Houdini’s acts that has been repeated many times, involved Houdini literally being buried alive strapped in a straitjacket and then to emerge – clawing his way to the surface – unharmed. In 1917, in Santa Ana, during his first public performance of the act the heavy weight of the earth pressed down on Houdini nearly killing him. Afterwards, he would use a specially built bronze casket to avoid being crushed or suffocated.

Houdini, ever resourceful and wary of competition, also patented a small specialized “diving suit” that he used in some of his escapes. The innovation was granted as U.S. Patent Number 1,370,316 on March 1, 1921.

Spiritualism and the Houdini Picture Corporation

Houdini, in a publicity shot, in his fifties.

In the 1920s, spiritualism became a great interest in America. His competitors, like the Davenport Brothers, ascribed much of their own illusions to supernatural powers. Something of the hard-working religious character in Ehrich must have taken great offense in this tactic. Altough he had used the aura of “ghost worlds” in some of his early routines he always attributed his escapes to his own natural skills. Where his “powers” were purely physical or intellectual and advertised as simply mysterious the various charlatans of his day were using superstitious beliefs to bilk large and small audiences out of fortunes.

After his mother’s death in 1913, and researching spiritualism himself, Houdini became convinced that the practitioners were frauds, and he spent much of his time debunking the fakes. In his vaudeville shows he advertised a “Three Shows in One: Magic, Escapes, and Fraud Mediums Exposed.” Where he would explain how mediums would research their victims or how they used common parlor tricks to fool them into believing they were contacting dead relatives. He was even more merciless to magicians that claimed spiritual powers.

Houdini challenged one of these “mystical” performers, the Egyptian Conjurer Rahman Bey, in August of 1925 to better the mystic’s record of spending an hour underwater in a small, sealed container. Houdini remaining at the bottom of a New York Public pool for an hour and a half, in a casket, using none of the special powers that Rahman Bey claimed to allow him to survive. Houdini would later say that all he did was control his breathing.

He was also a early Special Effects artist in the new medium of motion pictures and acted as a consultant on early films made by Pathe Films (inventors of the newsreel) in France. Building on his many appearances in newsreels, in 1919, The Master of Mystery series was made. It was a 15 part serial in which Harry performed his trademark escapes on film. The series was released to early matinee audiences as a success. Houdini formed the Houdini Picture Corporation with it’s own film lab going into business with his brother Theodore. They made two features, The Man From Beyond (1921) and Haldane of the Secret Service (1923). But, in late 1923, citing lack of profits, Houdini abandoned motion pictures.

The Final Challenger
In the end, Houdini’s reknowned hubris would eventually be his undoing. For all of his death defying feats, he died as a result of long standing personal challenge to his audience in late October of 1926. Nine days prior to his death (and with a broken ankle on the mend from the previous night’s show) his challenge was accepted in Montreal by a McGill University college student and amateur boxer named J. Gordon Whitehead.

Among his many challenges to his audience, Houdini had long laid claim that he could painlessly absorb any blow to the gut. But, before being prepared for the strike, Whitehead struck him three times – doubling Houdini over where he lay. Apparently Houdini was already suffering from appendicitis at this point and Whitehead’s punches ruptured the organ. Houdini did not seek medical attention and continued to perform for a few days afterward. He finally had the appendix removed on the 29th of October before dying of peritonitis and sepsis due two days later at the age of 52. Ehrich Weisz died on Halloween in a Detroit hospital saying, “I guess this thing is going to get me…”

Houdini’s death was a great shock to the country. Theodore eventually took up the Houdini act and would perform his brother’s escape routines, as Hardeen, until 1945. According to his will, the Houdini book collection, valued at $30,000 at the time, was left to the Library of Congress where it remains today as part of a larger collection on Houdini.

Ironically, after Ehrich’s death, his wife Bess held yearly seances on Halloween attempting to use spiritualism to unsuccessfully contact her departed husband’s soul. After ten years, Bess ended the practice saying “Ten years is long enough to wait for any man.” Bess died in 1943 well provided for by Houdini’s legacy.

Harry Houdini remains an enigmatic performer who was celebrated during his time as “the young Hungarian magician with the pleasant smile and easy confidence.” Today, he is remembered as a titan of his craft and an inspiration to many modern magician’s such as David Copperfield and David Blaine.

Via: FleshyBones
References: Wikipedia, Theodore Hardeen, Harry Houdini,, Legendary Escapes!, Find-A-Grave, Harry Houdini, Humbugs of the World, P.T. Barnum, New York: G.W. Carelton, 1865, Magician Among the Spirits, Harry Houdini, New York: Harper, 1924., The Life and Many Deaths of Harry Houdini, Ruth Brandon, London: Secker & Warburg, 1993. Appleton Public Library, Harry Houdini, Adam Woog Wisconsin: Lucent Books, 1994

A Brief History of Jinn or Genies

Genies (also called Jinn or genii) are spirits in cultures of the Middle East and Africa. The term genie comes from the Arabic word jinni, which referred to an evil spirit that could take the shape of an animal or person. It could be found in every kind of nonliving thing, even air and fire. Jinn (the plural of jinni) were said to have magical powers and are favorite figures in Islamic literature. To the Mende people of Sierra Leone in Africa, genii are spirits who occasionally try to possess living men. The Mende use magic to fight genii who enter the living.

In ancient Rome, the term genii, the plural form of the Latin word genius, referred to the spirits that watched over every man. The genius was responsible for forming a man’s character and caused all actions. Believed to be present at birth, genius came to be thought of as great inborn ability. Women had a similar spirit known as a juno. Some Romans also believed in a spirit, called an evil genius, that fought the good genius for control of a man’s fate. In later Roman mythology, genii were spirits who guarded the household or community.

For the ancient Semites the Jinn were spirits of vanished ancient peoples who acted during the night and disappeared with the first light of dawn; they could make themselves invisible or change shape into animals at will; these spirits were commonly made responsible for diseases and for the manias of some lunatics who claimed that they were tormented by the Jinn. The Arabs believed that the Jinn were spirits of fire, although sometimes they associated them with succubi, demons in the forms of beautiful women, who visited men by night to copulate with them until they were exhausted, drawing energy from their encounter.

Many Muslims would likely view the term “mythological” as a pejorative statement because traditionally they take the belief that Jinn are real beings. The Jinn are said to be creatures with free will, made of smokeless fire by God, much in the same way humans were made of earth. In the Qur’an, the Jinn are frequently mentioned and even Surat 72: Al-Jinn is entirely about them. In fact Muhammad was said to have been sent as a prophet to “men and Jinn”.

Jinn are not to be confused with the Kareen mentioned in the Qur’an in Surat An-Nas and in Islamic mythology. A Kareen is an evil spirit, while technically a Jinn is considered demonic, intent on tricking people into committing sins, similar to a personal demon. As they are unique to each individual, Kareens would be the ones a magician would summon after a person’s death, such as in a séance, for the soul goes to God and the unruly Kareen would remain on earth and would, conforming to his malevolent nature, impersonate the deceased whose character he’s familiar with. Islam strictly forbids magic. Orthodox Muslims however, recite various verses from the Qur’an such as the Throne Verse, Surat an-Nas and Suart al-Falaq as means of protection and prayer. In Islam-associated mythology, the Jinn were said to be controllable by magically binding them to objects, as Solomon most famously did; the Spirit of the Lamp in the story of Aladdin was such a Jinni, bound to an oil lamp.

In sorcery books Jinn are classified into four races after the classical elements; Earth, Air, Fire and Water. In those races they come in tribes, usually seven, each with a king, each king controls his tribe and is controlled by an Angel, whereas the Angel’s name is torture to the Jinn king as well as his specific tribe, much the same way Jesus’ name is to a demon during an exorcism. Unlike white and evil witches, Jinn have free will yet could be compelled to perform both good and evil acts, compared to a demon who would only hurt creatures or an angel with benevolent intentions. Knowing what to ask what spirit to perform is key as asking a spirit to perform a chore counter its natural tendencies would anger the spirit into retaliating against the sorcerer.

Via: TheFetteredHeart

The Essence of Alchemy

Alchemy is an ancient tradition, the primary objective of which was the creation of the mythical “philosopher’s stone,” which was said to be capable of turning base metals into gold or silver, and also act as an elixir of life that would confer youth and immortality upon its user. As practiced historically, alchemy can be viewed as a protoscience, a precursor to modern chemistry, having provided procedures, equipment, and terminology that are still in use. However, alchemy also included various non-scientific mythological, religious, and spiritual concepts, theories and practices.

The image of alchemists as defrocked wizards and full-time frauds is not quite accurate. Most of them were, in fact, highly spiritual men whose quest to transmute one substance into another was closer to mysticism than modern chemistry. The essence of alchemy lay in the belief that certain incantations and rituals could convince or command angelic beings to change base metals into precious ones.

According to ancient tradition, the mummy of Hermes Trismegistus, the master of alchemical philosophy, was found in an obscure chamber of the Great Pyramid of Giza, clutching an emerald tablet in its hands. The words contained on the tablet revealed the alchemical creed that “It is true and without falsehood and most real: that which is above is like that which is below, to perpetuate the miracles of one thing. And as all things have been derived from one, by the thought of one, so all things are born from this thing, by adoption.” Within the secrets inscribed on the tablet was the “most powerful of all powers,” the process by which the world was created and by which all “subtle things” might penetrate “every solid thing,” and by which base material might be transformed into precious metals and gems.

For centuries, the writings of Hermes Trismegistus were considered a precious legacy from the master of alchemy. The Hermetics believed that the nature of the cosmos was sacramental: “that which is above is like that which is below.” In other words, the nature of the spiritual world could be discovered through the study of the material substance of Earth; and earthly humans, created of the dust of the ground, comprised the prima materia of the heavenly beings they would become, just as the base elements of Earth comprised the raw materials for gold. The alchemical adepts believed that the most perfect thing on the planet was gold and that it was linked with the sun. The sun was considered to be the lowest manifestation of the spiritual world and therefore provided the intermediary between God and humankind.

The science of alchemy was introduced to the Western world at the beginning of the second century of the common era. It was, however, 200 years before the practice of the craft reached its zenith, concurrent with the persecutions of the pagans by the Christians. Zosimus of Panapolis, self-appointed apologist of alchemy, cited a passage in Genesis as the origin of the arcane art: “The sons of God saw that the daughters of men were fair.” To this scriptural reference, Zosimus added the tradition that in reward for their favors, the “sons of God,” who were believed to be fallen angels, endowed these women with the knowledge of how to make jewels, colorful garments, and perfumes with which to enhance their earthly charms.

The seven Archangels whose favor the alchemist sought to obtain for their transformation were Michael, who was believed to transmute base metals into gold and to dissolve any enmity directed toward the alchemist; Gabriel, who fashioned silver and foresaw the future; Samuel, who protected against physical harm; and Raphael, Sachiel, Ansel, and Cassiel, who could create various gems and guard the alchemist from attack by demons. However, members of the clergy were skeptical that the alchemists were truly calling upon angels, rather than demons in disguise, and they recalled the words of the Church Father Tertullian (c. 155 or 160–after 220), who confirmed earlier beliefs that the “sons of God” referred to in Genesis were evil perverts who bequeathed their wisdom to mortals with the sole intention of seducing them to mundane pleasures.

While the Hermetic was akin to the mystic, a great deal more came out of those smoky laboratories than candidates for the torture chambers of the Inquisition. In the intellectual half-light of the Middle Ages, the brotherhood of alchemy, perhaps by accident as much as design, did produce a number of valuable chemical discoveries. Albert le Grand produced potassium lye; Raymond Lully (1235–1315) prepared biocarbonate of potassium; Paracelsus (1493–1541) was the first to describe zinc and chemical compounds to medicine; Blaise Vigenere (1523–1596) discovered benzoic acid. Discoveries increased during the Renaissance when such men as Basil Valentine (c. 1450– 1492) discovered sulphuric acid, and Johann Friedrich Boetticher (1682–1719) became the first European to produce porcelain. Evidence has been disinterred from the musty alchemists’ libraries in Europe that suggests that certain of the medieval and Renaissance alchemists conducted experiments with photography, radio transmission, phonography, and aerial flight, as well as the endless quest to transmute base metals into gold.

Via: UnexplainedStuff

The Salem Witch Trials

The Salem Witch Trials were a fearful and disastrous time in American history. Families were torn apart. The once friendly communities were now full of rumors and distrust, suspicion, and dislike. Anyone could be declared a witch, even innocent widows or children who were different in some manner or disliked by a Puritan. The punishments for witches were often horrifying and included hanging, water drowning, burning, and pressing the “witches.” The Trials began in 1692 and ended in 1693. During the trials, nineteen people were hung and 150 imprisoned for perceived witchcraft.

In 1689 a minister, Samuel Parris, moved to Salem village with his family and 2 slaves, Tituba and Indian John. In January of 1692, Parris’ daughter, Elizabeth Parris, Jr., known as Betty, falls ill. It is Betty’s illness which begins the “witch hunt” and subsequent Salem Witch Trials.

Witchcraft trials had been going on for several centuries throughout Europe, with the approval and support of the Church. Countless thousands of men and women had been tortured and executed for alleged witchcraft and devil worship. The Puritans were a very strict and serious minded religious group, that did not condone, singing,dancing or recreational non-work related activities. Such activity was considered idleness and labeled as being the influence of the devil.

Some of the factors leading to acusations in the Salem Witch Trials, included petty jealousies, greed, feuds, and property disputes. Several of the accused witches were well-off and if convicted of witchcraft, their property was forfeited. Other reasons included their failure to attend church regularly, and perceived opposition to the minister, Samuel Parris, as well as any odd or uncustomary behaviors.

January 1692, “Betty” becomes ill, the Reverend Samuel Parris consults with the town doctor, William Griggs. The doctor can find nothing wrong with the girl, and under some pressure from the minister, blames the girl’s illness on witchcraft. As the town was already anxious, due to livestock deaths and a smallpox outbreak, both of which were perceived as sure signs of the devil’s presence in their community. This misdiagnosis began and would fuel the witch hunt hysteria in Salem for almost five months.

The minister’s daughter, Betty, and several of her friends began calling out the names of people in the village, who were said to be bewitching them. Soon the town jail was filled with 150 people from Salem and surrounding villages, all accused of witchcraft.

The trials began in June 1692 and were presided over by Chief Justice William Stoughton. The first to go to trial and be hanged was Bridget Bishop. Thirteen women and four men, would follow her to the gallows over the summer. An additional man Giles Corey was pressed, or crushed to death with heavy stones, as he steadfastly refused to plead guilty to the witchcraft charges against him. As well there was one dog, who was thought to be a transformed witch, who was also hanged.

In October of 1692, the trials suddenly ended, when the court was dismissed by the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, William Phipps, who ruled that so-called “spectral evidence” was not allowable. The accused still in custody were scheduled to be released and those found guilty or waiting on “death row” were also pardoned and released.

In the following years, apologies were issued, but the wounds to the Village of Salem ran deep. The Witch Trials became an example of what fear, superstition, and petty jealousies can do to a tight knit society. Many of the accused and convicted continued to languish in jail after the trials ended, because they could not afford the money required for their release. Since their property was seized and would not be returned to them. Most of those convicted and then released ended up poor and destitute.

There were food shortages in Salem, as the many of the fields had been neglected due to the turmoil of the trials. The Reverend Parris and his family were forced to move away from Salem by April 1696, due to community pressure. His son Noyes died insane. The Puritan Religion began to fade-out and lose influence as a direct result of the Witch Trials. Colonial society began to question the outdated and superstitious beliefs of the Puritans. Following these infamous proceedings, there was never another witch trial or execution in the American colonies.

Via: Squidoo